Black Umbrellas

Black Umbrellas

 

It was drizzling softly outside on the chilly November morning, where the worn cobblestone streets were left vacant. Black umbrellas popped up like cysts along the road, then disappeared in front of brightly lit store fronts and pubs. Jessie held his own umbrella in front of a small café, while also tightly holding his wife’s small hand. Leah looked up at him with wide eyes, opened the rickety wooden door, and stepped into the fragrant restaurant.

As they were seated, aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baking sweet breads filled the air. A small candle danced on the round table between them, where they tried to find room to put their hands. The café was a city gem, hidden in the North End of Boston amongst some residential apartments on a one way street. It was a place only the locals frequented, and had been a watering hole of theirs for the past five years. Leah sipped at her steaming mug of black coffee while Jessie added sugar and creamer to his. He hated the taste of coffee, but he knew how much his wife loved going there. So he smiled at her and sipped at his saturated cup of brew.

The rest of the patrons busily entered and exited the small café, so each diner was forced to bring in their elbows for fear of hitting their neighbor. The restaurant was small and quaint, supporting local artists and crafters with their amalgam of decorations. Leah, avoiding Jessie’s gaze, toyed lightly with her napkin and then placed it in her lap.

“You okay?”

She sighed, then nodded acquiescently. “I just love this place, you know?”

“We can always come back and visit,” he said while reaching out a hand reassuringly.

Leah allowed him to hold her hand, and continued staring into her coffee. “I know.”

Their food was suddenly placed in front of them, covering the entire tabletop. They had to relinquish their grip, and Leah looked down at her mess of an omelet.

“It’ll be okay, I know.”

Jessie’s face flushed red, covering his neck in an angry rash. He patted his pocket which crunched heavily, where a roll of papers were hidden. He tried to smile at his wife, but when she refused to look up, his body seemed to deflate.

“It’ll be a strange adjustment, but, look: it took a while for us to get used to Boston, and we ended up loving it. Who’s to say we won’t love Seattle just as much?”

“I just wish I had been able to visit with you. I wanted to see the house, too.”

“You’ll see it soon.”

“You could have taken pictures.”

“Leah, I know you’re going to love it. Trust me.”

His wife looked up at him from her food. “I guess I’m just nervous.”

“About your job?”

She didn’t answer him, and merely pushed around the eggs on the plate in front of her.

“At least it’s for the same company. You just have the state and area to get used to.”

“And find new friends,” she said with an edge.

Jessie watched as her face crumpled. She bit her lip and stared down at her food, then quickly grabbed her coffee. He reached for her, but found himself trapped in on all sides by the multitude of couples around them.

“You’ll have me, Leah. We can learn the place together and meet new couples. I mean, we’ve done it before.” He tried to smile hearteningly at his wife, but the shift in her mood was palpable.

In seconds, her coffee was drained and her eyes looked bloodshot. “I’ve just worked really hard to get to where I am, Jessie.”

“I know you have,” and Jessie clenched his teeth. The restaurant’s temperature skyrocketed and suddenly looked too small. It was like a cage around their stagnant conversation.

“I just…” Leah took a very deep breath. “I didn’t think this would happen so fast.”

“We’ve talked about it, Leah. All the time.”

“But I didn’t think you’d get signed so quickly.”

“I didn’t either, but it happened.” And then after a moment, “I thought you’d be happy for us.”

“You did this for you, not for us.”

They sat there in silence for another couple of minutes before Jessie asked for the check. He had avoided his wife’s gaze, just staring emptily at the couples around them. As soon as they got their check back, Jessie was out of his seat. Leaving the café without bumping into another couple was a challenge, but Jessie found himself outside and in the rain before Leah could catch up. He took a breath of cold, harsh air, relishing in the dirty taste it left on his mouth.

“Jessie,” Leah called, her face screwed up in the haze of rain. He realized he had not opened his umbrella and was getting soaked, even though the misty drizzle was light. Rain drops clung to him like a magnet, chilling him to the very bone.

He opened the umbrella and handed it to Leah.

“Jessie, I’m sorry to have said it like that. I know you just want-“

“Obviously you don’t know what I want.”

“Come here, Jessie, please.”

He had begun to walk away, the layer of drops and mist on him turning into a sort of armor against the cold.

“Jessie, please, come home with me,” Leah’s voice was husky and soft in the increasing distance he made between them.

“I’ll meet you at the apartment.”

“Where are you going?”

He didn’t answer her, just leaving her in the dim soft glow of the café’s storefront. He walked into the hazy mist of rain, shrugging his jacket up towards his ears to keep warm. The papers in his pocket crunched beneath his hands, and he held on to them like a lifeline. His face remained stoic, yet his eyes watered against the chilling cold. He stopped at an empty intersection, rubbed his face vigorously, and then stared into the shrouded streets ahead of him. He couldn’t see further than 100 feet where the street lights began to glimmer and fade into the distance.

His hand was grabbed from behind, and he turned defensively.

“Dude, what the-“

Leah looked at him from under the umbrella, gripping his fingers tightly. “Don’t you ever walk away.”

Jessie swallowed, his neck muscles tensing as she put the umbrella over the two of them. She looked angry, but something else twitched at the corner of her mouth.

“Let me see those papers. There’s got to be a picture of the house in there, right?”

And together, with their spines straight and bodies chilled, they walked down the empty, clouded streets of Boston.